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Kevin Myers: Amnesty's Cause Was Those Held in Dungeons for Peaceful Thought or Word -- Not Anymore

Irish Independent, May 28 2010 by Kevin Myers

The day might yet dawn in which an RTE news bulletin does not contain the opinions of Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty Ireland. Yesterday, the issue was of "children's rights", and Amnesty's concern that children had been placed in adult mental care facilities. Not an unreasonable issue for the ISPCC to get involved in, but, once again, Amnesty led the way.

For Amnesty has become the one-stop shop for the righteous: a browse through Amnesty Ireland's website is like entering a vast cornucopia of rights-based agendas. I briefly wondered if Amnesty Ireland had an opinion on civil partnership between homosexual couples. Silly me. Of course it has.

O'Gorman last year denounced the Civil Partnership Bill as "a second-class form of marriage for what the Government clearly believes is a second-class group of people". He is, of course, entitled to speak his mind on such matters -- but these words were not of his mind, but on behalf of Amnesty International.

Could Peter Benenson have ever imagined that the organisation he founded 50 years ago as a response to reading about two young Portuguese who were imprisoned for toasting "freedom", would one day be demanding that same-sex couples be allowed exactly the same adoption rights as heterosexual couples?

The emblem of Amnesty is one of the greatest and most iconic logos of the 20th Century -- a candle burning in a coil of barbed wire. We all understand that -- and we all understand what, once upon a time, Amnesty was about. It was to highlight the plight of prisoners of conscience who had been incarcerated because of their beliefs.

Amnesty did heroic work wherever tyranny flourished. Its purity was its simplicity; its simplicity was its purity. It fought for the rights of prisoners of conscience -- but it did not define what that conscience should consist of. It did not have a political agenda. Its cause was those who were held in dungeons, whose crime was peaceful thought or peaceful word.

Not any more. It is now a champion of liberal, right-on causes. Google Amnesty International and Hamas, and you will find many, many condemnations by Amnesty of Israel; but you will have to work very hard indeed to find Amnesty's condemnations of Hamas. Yes, there are some, but they are seriously muted in comparison to Amnesty's almost daily condemnations of Israel, though the latter has not executed any prisoners.

Hamas has executed -- I think -- five men so far this year, including two for collaborating with Israel. Yet execution of prisoners used to be in the forefront of Amnesty's list of crimes.

However, nowadays it really does depend on who is doing the executing. Alas, those horrible Israelis don't execute prisoners -- no doubt a grave disappointment for Amnesty, because few things give it so much pleasure as criticising the Jewish state.

Thus Amnesty's denunciation of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip runs: "Imposed ostensibly to deter rocket-firing into Israel by Palestinian armed groups, the blockade was nothing less than an outrage -- the imposition of collective punishment on the entire population of Gaza."

Hold on. What's that "ostensibly" doing there? Is Amnesty saying there would be no blockade if the rocket-firing wasn't occurring? Is it Amnesty's position that the blockade would happen even if the Palestinians had poetry-readings, folk-dancing and vegan cookery competitions?

Well, indeed, Israel might well consist of a bunch of bloody-minded butchers who like tormenting Arabs merely because they are Arabs. But that, surely, is NOT the kind of observation that Amnesty was established to make. It is a political statement -- moreover, an idiotic one -- and one that is not compatible with Amnesty's status as a defender of the rights of prisoners of conscience.

To be sure, if I looked hard enough, I could find Amnesty's condemnations of the thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel, which were not by "Palestinian armed groups", as Amnesty so picturesquely calls them, but by employees of the Hamas government. But the truth is that such condemnations do not figure large in the Amnesty agenda, whereas the right to same-sex unions clearly does.

But that's getting the whole purpose of Amnesty back to front. The real reason for Amnesty's existence is not the nature of prisoners' thoughts -- whether this man's opinion that Israel should not exist, or that woman's opinion that lesbians should be allowed to marry and adopt children.

Amnesty's beauty was its devotion to freedom of peaceful speech and thought. Amnesty of old, like a good lawyer, would defend prisoners with completely opposing viewpoints.

But would Amnesty today campaign for the man who was imprisoned because he believed homosexuality was wrong with the same vigour that it campaigns for same-sex unions? And would it show comparable energy championing the rights of those who are imprisoned because they are Zionists?

You know the answer to both questions, don't you? Which simply means that Amnesty, as Amnesty, is dead.